I recently went roller skating for the first time since my youth and it brought me right back to those torturous junior high years. Upon entering the rink, I had what can only be compared to an LSD flashback. Even though I was never cool enough to have done LSD, skating on a roller rink again, turned me back into that insecure girl who was desperate to be liked. Despite being 32 years old, as a group of preteen girls skated past me I thought, “Act cool, Joleen. And whatever you do, don’t do that thing you do when you’re nervous where you smile and drool on yourself.”
I spent every Friday night from the ages of 13 to 15 years old at a roller skating rink. During this time in my life, rolling around and around the shiny hardwood floors of Saints North Skating Rink in Maplewood, Minnesota was THE place to see and be seen in the early 90’s. I was first introduced to Saints North by a popular girl named Chris whom I befriended in my 7th grade English class. Within days of meeting she invited me out for a Friday night at Saints North. I was nervous knowing that all of her cool friends were going to be there. I really wanted them to like me. That Friday, I spent hours planning my outfit, curling my hair and teasing my bangs. This was 1993 and flat bangs were a social death sentence. If your bangs weren’t curled, teased and then drowned in Aussie hairspray, you might as well stay home forever. I was feeling great as Chris and I entered the front door of Saints North, but soon realized that Chris was holding a large Esprit tote bag. I inquired, “What’s in the bag?” She smiled and said, “My skates.” My throat sank into my stomach. I had no idea people brought their own skates. Then I looked around and noticed that every single girl at the rink was carrying an Esprit tote bag with their own skates inside. I stuck out like the kid who wore his snow boots all school year. Strike one.
Ashamed, I quickly snuck up to the front desk where they rented skates. I then sat alone on a carpeted bench and hurriedly laced up my rentals. I watched as Chris walked over and greeted her friends. I sat staring at each of their crisp white skates. Each perfectly accented with colorful laces. I looked down completely embarrassed by my fecal-colored rentals. I just hoped that my bangs were so perfectly coifed that no one would find it necessary to look down at my feet. It took all of my strength and nerve to get off the bench and start approaching Chris and her popular friends. When I was within earshot of the group, a sixth grade boy in a pair of rollerblades skated up to me, pointed at me and yelled out, “Nice mental rentals” and then skated away. To this day, I’ve never wanted to punch someone in the face more than I did that kid. I watched as the group of girls looked down at my feet and all I saw was judgment on their faces. Strike two.
Despite being outted for donning “mental rentals,” I stood just outside of the circle behind Chris as to not appear too pushy. There is nothing teenage girls hate more than some new girl trying to social-bomb their clique. Thankfully, Chris grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into their circle. “This is my new friend, Joleen. She’s cool.” All of the girls smiled at me and introduced themselves. I felt a sense of relief. A relief I hadn’t felt since sixth grade. In sixth grade I was still in elementary school and I was cool, but cool in sixth grade just meant that you were good at kickball and were selected to be in charge of the class pet, Chilly the Chinchilla.
Despite having two strikes against me in the first fifteen minutes of my arrival, I seemed to be fitting in. I laughed at all of their jokes and made affirmative statements like, “I love that Ditty by Paperboy too!” And just when I thought I was in, one of the popular girls whispered to another girl and started laughing. I started laughing too hoping they would let me in on the joke eventually, but willing to continue laughing just because they were. “What are you wearing?” asked Amy, a pretty girl with long blonde hair. Each strand was curled into perfect ringlets, which at that time, solidified her place in the popular group. “I don’t know,” I responded confused as to why she was asking something she should have been able to clearly see. Maybe she went temporarily blind and was asking just so she could paint a picture of me in her head, I silently assured myself. “It’s weird,” she said and then continued laughing. Her laugh seemed to set off a trigger in the other girls and soon they were all looking at me and laughing. At the time, I didn’t understand what was “weird” about my outfit. When I left the house, I was positive that Chic jeans and a t-shirt with tropical fish that said, Florida on it was of the definition of stylish. My mom surprised me with that shirt during our vacation to Florida. I couldn’t believe that my own mother would set me up to look “weird.” Or maybe she would. Maybe she was too far out of her disparaging teen years to realize what her gift would do to me. In that moment, I wished I would have come up with a better response to Amy’s question. I should have told her that I had been wearing cool clothes, but on the way to the roller skating rink I was jumped by a group of fashionably-challenged girls who stole my clothes and forced me to wear these weird ones. Or better yet, I should have played the sympathy card and told her that my outfit was actually my great grandmother’s dying wish. “I beg of you, Joleen. Please wear this tropical fish souvenir t-shirt and pair of Chic jeans one last time for me.” Apparently, I had been left out of the 7th grade fashion conference where they informed you that wearing souvenir t-shirts was the antithesis of cool. That night I learned that there are only certain times in life that you can wear t-shirts obtained while on vacation A) While on vacation B) From the ages of 1-10 years old and C) From the ages of 60 years old-death. Strike Three.
I was now positive that I had ruined my chances to be popular in junior high. I was instead destined for a life of social mediocrity and eating chicken nuggets alone at the end of some lunch table full of other misfits. I was just about ready to slowly skate away in defeat when they stopped laughing. The attention had been turned away from me when the girls spotted a group of 7th grade boys congregated near the sticker machine. “Let’s go get stickers,” Marissa, the leader of the group, instructed. All it took was six guys from the hockey team to make my horrible fashion choice so two minutes ago.
When we arrived at the sticker machine, we stood near the boys, but never actually spoke to them. They’d look over at us and we’d pretend not to see them. Then we’d look over at them and they’d completely ignore us. This lasted for about an hour. At the time, it was the most fun I had ever had. Each girl placed 75 cents in the sticker machine hoping to get the glittery Playboy Bunny, but I was the only one who got it. My luck was looking up.
After standing at the sticker machine for an hour, Marissa decided she had to use the restroom, which then inspired the urge in us all. No one actually used the restroom while we were in there because according to Amy that would have been, “Totally gross.” Instead we all stood at the mirror carefully examining our faces and applying pressed powder to cover every inch of our skin. I pulled out of my pocket a small vile of Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door perfume that I had stolen from my mom before I left the house that night. This was the first time I had ever worn perfume so I sprayed it on very liberally hoping the girls would be impressed by my fancy fragrance. After my ninth spray, Cate, a petite girl whom Chris said had locked herself in a restroom stall the Friday before because she claimed, “Nobody knows the real me,” started having a coughing fit. Suddenly the ladies restroom was a scene of panic as she began hyperventilating. She fell to the floor, motioning that she could not breathe. Hearing the commotion, two employees rushed into the restroom and carried her out. They placed her on the ground next to the sticker machine and one of them yelled out, “Call 911!” Everyone surrounded Cate as she began to convulse uncontrollably. When the paramedics arrived, they placed an oxygen mask on her face and checked her vitals. After about twenty minutes, they removed the oxygen mask and sat her up. The sixth grade boy who had pointed out my “mental rentals” earlier that night skated inside the circle that had formed around Cate and asked, “What stinks?” Cate pointed to me and said, “It’s her perfume!” Everyone then started sniffing around me and making a face like they had just smelled carrion. The popular girls who I had worked so hard to befriend inched away from me. I became the girl with the life-threatening scent. Elizabeth Arden had failed me. No more strikes. I was out.
I turned around defeated and skated toward the front desk. I returned my “mental rentals” and called my mom from a payphone begging her to pick me up. On the way home we had to drive with all the windows down because as my mom explained, “Jo, with most things in life, a little bit goes a long way.”
Three weeks later I summoned the courage to return to Saints North with Chris. Chris had explained that Cate was a drama queen and had faked the whole attack so that people would pay attention to her. Chris pushed me back into their circle and soon the popular girls let me stand near them without ridicule. Throughout the 3 years I spent at Saints North, I learned a lot of important life lessons. I learned that you can be yourself, but if you do, you’ll never make it in junior high. I gave my entire collection of souvenir t-shirts to my younger brother. I let him learn the hard way like I had. Instead I borrowed fashionable t-shirts from my new friends and finally convinced my parents that if they didn’t buy me a pair of Girbaud jeans and white roller skates, “I would just die!”